The Nigeria Labour Congress has accused the Federal Government of delaying the negotiations on post-subsidy palliatives for workers four months after the removal of the fuel subsidy which has compounded the hardships in the country.
In response to the perceived lethargy of the government, the organised labour will on Tuesday (today) hold an emergency National Executive Council meeting where it will take decisions on its next steps.
The NEC comprises all presidents, general secretaries, treasurers of all NLC’s affiliate unions; state chairpersons and secretaries of the NLC state councils, chairperson of the NLC Youth Committee and members of the National Administrative Council.
A top official of the NLC, who spoke with one of our correspondents on Monday, hinted that the congress might take drastic action to compel the FG to return to the negotiation table.
The labour union had earlier embarked on a two-day warning strike on September 5 and 6 in readiness for an indefinite strike to press home its demands.
The 21-day ultimatum issued by the congress expired last Friday and the union consequently scheduled an emergency meeting of its NEC for Tuesday (today).
The notice of the meeting dated September 22, 2023, signed by the congress’ General Secretary, Emmanuel Ugboaja, urged the presidents, general secretaries and treasurers of its affiliates to attend the virtual session which it said was of utmost importance.
Ahead of the meeting, state chapters of the NLC had said they were ready to mobilise their members for full participation if the NEC declared a strike.
Among other things, the NLC and the Trade Union Congress were asking for wage awards, implementation of palliatives, tax exemptions and allowances to the public sector workers and a review of the minimum wage.
President Bola Tinubu had on June 19 set up the Presidential Steering Committee and various sub-committees to discuss the framework to be adopted on the palliatives.
Though the FG made a commitment to restructure the framework for engagement with organised Labour on palliatives, the eight-week timeframe set for the conclusion of the process expired in August with no action taken.
The committees were given eight weeks to conclude their assignment and hasten the implementation of the framework in cushioning the effect of petrol subsidy removal on Nigerians but weeks after the timeframe expired, the sub-committees had yet to meet or actualise their mandates, leaving the NLC and TUC leadership frustrated.
The National President of the NLC, Joe Ajaero, had complained that “none of the demands put before the Federal Government had been addressed.’’
A top NLC official who spoke on condition of anonymity told The PUNCH that the FG had been given sufficient time to act, noting that it was now four months since the subsidy was removed without any action taken by the FG to assuage the workers’ pains.
He stated, ‘’It is for the government to do the right thing; the government has been given a long time to act and it is four months since the petrol subsidy was removed.
‘’It is only private sector employers who were telling the government to reach an agreement with us, and they were also kicking against the strike because they are apprehensive any labour action will affect them but it is going to affect everybody, not just the private sector.’’
The source reiterated that the NLC had not changed its stance on the demands presented to the government.
He said the NEC would take decisions on the way forward, advising those opposed to a possible strike to prevail on the FG to meet the needs of the people.
Stating that the NEC meeting would determine whether the strike would be immediate or not, he said, ‘’The private sector employers have refused to give wage awards, saying that they want the Federal Government to lead the way. Therefore, they should have asked the Federal Government to lead the way.’’
He added, ‘’However, because the employers have refused to pay, they are waiting for the Federal Government and they are happy that the Federal Government has not met NLC’s demands.’’
Meanwhile, the Trade Union Congress has said it is waiting for feedback from the Federal Government following last week’s post-subsidy removal negotiations.
The TUC, led by its National President, Festus Osifo, had during a meeting with the Minister of Labour and Employment, Simon Lalong, on September 19 said workers were facing enormous pressure that are making life very difficult.
The minister, in company of the Minister of State, Nkeiruka Onyeajeocha, told the TUC that after their last meeting, he met with President Bola Tinubu to highlight some of the issues raised by organised labour.
He appealed to the TUC to exercise more patience, explaining that before the President left for the United Nations General Assembly in New York, he was fully briefed and he gave further directives on the implementation of demands put before him when he met with the labour leaders.
Speaking with our correspondent on Monday, the National Vice President of the congress, Tommy Etim, explained that the union was expecting the outcome of the minister’s deliberations with the President.
He said, “During our last meeting with the minister of labour, we were told that the President was out of the country and would need to be back from the UNGA before our messages will be passed across.
‘’As of now, we have not been reached out to but we are waiting for the outcome of the meeting between the minister and the president. We have been assured that we will get feedback.”
When asked what the FG was doing to meet the unions’ demands, the Minister of Information, Idris Mohammed, simply said, ‘’No cause for alarm. Engagement is still ongoing.’’
But ahead of the crucial NEC meeting, the state chapters of the NLC in Katsina, Niger, Kwara and Zamfara States have expressed their interest in attending the meeting.
The Chairman of the Katsina state chapter of the NLC, Husseini Hamisu, pointed out that the NEC would determine the next line of action to be taken by the members of the union in the state.
“The NLC NEC meeting is being held in Abuja on Tuesday (today). Our next line of action would be determined by the outcome of the meeting. We don’t need to jump the gun. Call me in the evening and I will tell you what our action would be.
“Everybody knows that Nigerians are currently undergoing severe hardships and organised labour has been at the forefront, agitating for a better life for Nigerians. We, however, have to follow procedures in doing things. Let us wait for the outcome of the NEC meeting,’’ he stated.
Similarly, the Niger State Council of the congress explained that the meeting would determine the next line of action that would be taken by Nigerian workers over the alleged refusal of the FG to meet their demands.
The state chairman of NLC, Idrees Lafena, who spoke with The PUNCH on the telephone on Monday, said, “There is going to be a NEC meeting tomorrow. It is after the meeting that we can talk about anything.
“Anything I say that is contrary to that meeting, I’ll not be able to defend it. So let’s leave it at that. After the meeting, I can talk to you.”
Lafena’s counterparts in Zamfara and Kwara States, Sani Halliru and Saheed Olayinka, also declined to be categorical on the decisions that might be taken at the meeting.
“The NLC has a committee that is meeting with the Federal Government and I’m not a member of the committee, so I cannot say anything on it. It is after the meeting that we will know if the strike will hold or not,’’ Olayinka explained.
Meanwhile, the Minister of Labour and Employment, Simon Lalong, has assured Nigerian workers that the government will soon conclude the issue of wage award.
The minister also appealed to the NLC not to embark on its planned strike, and allow government work to resolve all pending issues.
This is as the National Union of Road Transport Workers, NURTW, thanked the minister for securing the release of some of its members, who were arrested two weeks ago by government agents.
Speaking when he received Alhaji Ibikunle Baruwa, who led a team of four members of the NURTW on a thank-you visit to his office, Lalong appreciated the visit and sued for peace between the two factions of the NURTW.
A statement issued in Abuja Monday by Director, Press and Public Relations Unit, Ministry of Labour and Employment, Olajide Oshundun, stated that, “He (Lalong) maintained that industrial harmony remains key to the socio-economic development of any nation, and urged the Union to work in synergy with the Federal Government in moving the country forward.
“Lalong noted that securing the release of the detained NURTW members was one of the demands of NLC at last week’s meeting between the Congress and the Ministers of Labour and Employment.
“He assured them that the processes leading to the fulfilment of the other requests of the NLC, especially wage award, were on course, and would be concluded soon.
“The minister therefore called on the NLC not to embark on their planned strike, and allow government work to resolve all pending issues.”